“Take a break” With Penny Bauder & Stephanie Sponsel

Work — I have been able to work on things that will help the company grow and thrive in this ever-changing world. We now have conferencing tools for longer-term use, our office phones have been adapted for use at home. I’ve had the chance to sit down and have lunch with my kids or throw in […]

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Work — I have been able to work on things that will help the company grow and thrive in this ever-changing world. We now have conferencing tools for longer-term use, our office phones have been adapted for use at home. I’ve had the chance to sit down and have lunch with my kids or throw in a load of laundry while walking around on my wireless headset during a phone call. Instead of a kitchen chat at work, I am now multitasking from home and can claim I am twice as productive now!

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Sponsel, operations director for a consulting service firm in Indianapolis.

Stephanie Sponsel has more than 11 years of experience in the operations field. In her position as operations director at netlogx, she manages the budgets, statements of work, and contracts in addition to monthly reporting for executives and the company as a whole. She is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt and holds a Bachelor of Science in Supply Chain Management and International Studies from the Kelley School of Business IUPUI.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

As a little girl, I would “ work” for my dad at his accounting firm. He would let me skip summer camp a few days and help him file, make copies or play around on a computer.

My dad was also a big believer in budgets. Every time we received holiday or birthday money, he would take half of it and invest it for us and the other half was our fun money. This lesson was annoying to me when I was young and driven by instant-gratification, but I came to realize as I got older how valuable it was when it helped me put a down payment on a car and buy textbooks for college!

These early trips to the office and financial literacy lessons helped me realize that I enjoyed the ever-changing, yet planned life of the office and that my organizational and budgeting skill sets were a valuable asset in the workplace.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

In 2013, netlogx was able to be a part of the UK Ambassador’s visit to Indianapolis. The Indy Chamber and United Kingdom Trade and Investment Association hosted the visit to the Stutz building and it was a great opportunity to discuss jobs in Indiana supported by UK companies, and Indiana exports to the UK.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At netlogx, we are always reviewing our budgets in preparation for quarterly updates. With the pandemic hitting in March and its ongoing effects, we have had to review expenses and income monthly. With the ever-changing paths ahead of us, trying to plan for the future has been challenging. It’s an ever-moving target.

I have developed, with the help of colleagues, a dashboard for our executive team. The dashboard includes a month-to-month view as well as a year-to-year view with charts going back as far as five years. We also have a sales dashboard showing key benchmarks. This enables our owners to see where the company stands on a real-time basis, as well as provides a supplemental tool for our sales/outreach team.

In the eight years that I have been with the company, we have not had a detailed dashboard that showed specific targets we wanted to meet and a visual interpretation of the financials. I am hoping the new dashboards will help keep the company even-keeled, in addition to providing a pathway to new opportunities.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve gleaned so much from the women I’m surrounded by, including netlogx CEO Audrey Taylor. Early in my career, after I became a working parent, she made it clear to me that what matters most is excellent work, and if that work happens on a different schedule than what is “society’s norm,” that was okay. Excellent work can be defined not only in the duties I perform as a team member, but also those I perform as a parent. As long as I am performing to the best of my ability in either role, I’m fine. This advice matched what I’d heard during my membership with the Indianapolis chapter of Advanced Women Leaders (AWL).

When I was a new graduate, I joined AWL and asked those peers to define and discuss what work-life balance actually meant. I was struggling with it as many women often do. My cohort had a stark response: work-life balance as a general term does not exist. I’ve developed a hard stance that work-life balance is different for each and every person; the definition of work-life balance that modern culture describes is absolutely impossible to achieve.

Women, like our CEO, have led by example and have been advantageous to my personal and professional development. That support was paramount to creating an atmosphere where I could feel comfortable exploring the ins-and-outs of what worked and what doesn’t. I know not everyone has the ability to make those kinds of decisions at work. If it hadn’t been for the support I received from my employer and networking groups, I couldn’t have achieved the semblance of work-life balance I have today.

Additionally, work-life balance can not only help you but those around you. For example, we had a work dinner scheduled with team members from out of town that had been on the calendar for weeks. At the last minute, my husband had a conflict and was unable to pick up our son, so I stepped in and brought him to the dinner with me. While it was not the situation I had pictured, it was a good opportunity for team members to see that I have a life outside of the office. Just because I am a leader of our team, doesn’t mean that disruptions don’t pop up in my personal life. It may sound cliche to say that your boss serves as your mentor, but I think the support and encouragement I have received from Audrey throughout the years have shown the true value of putting your corporate values into practice.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

Being a woman and a working parent is incredibly hard and the pandemic has definitely added a layer of stress that no one could have expected. Before the pandemic, my husband and I learned that our middle child was on the autism spectrum. As if that weren’t challenging enough, when the pandemic began, my husband (who previously stayed at home with our four children) had started a new job. The balance shifted between school, work, doctor’s appointments, and extracurricular activities as everything revolved around our home and adapting to a virtual learning environment.

In pre-pandemic times, my husband was the sole caretaker of our children from 8–5. Once the pandemic hit, his 3rd shift job was no longer viable, so he started a new one during the day. The responsibilities of caring for our children now fell on me. Trying to schedule our home life around my work life was a challenge that I could NOT have done without a strong support system and the understanding of my netlogx team.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Understanding how to communicate on a deeper level and developing a heightened awareness about how others communicate was a learning experience for me after my son was diagnosed with ASD. This was incredibly beneficial as the world approached a pandemic, because it helped my family communicate more effectively and efficiently while things were seemingly turned upside down with home-schooling and ever-changing recommendations. Imagine trying to convince your child with ASD to wear a mask for a long duration of time! Communication skills are more important than I ever thought they would be prior to this pandemic.

Another lesson I have learned during this pandemic is that I’m a better mom and spouse when I take time to prioritize myself. A quick walk or socially-distanced time out of the house with a friend or two helps me feel re-energized and ready to jump back into the controlled chaos that is our lives!

Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

My role as operations director means I’m responsible for many of the pandemic-related financial requirements to keep netlogx up and running. The first round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications had incredibly tight deadlines and little information was known about submission requirements. You might remember that the PPP loans ran out after only 14 days and many small businesses that applied for PPP loans didn’t receive them during the first round. Securing that loan became the most important item of business for me in the wake of all the uncertainty that came with the pandemic.

It required many hours to navigate the complexities of legalese and an understanding of the applications so I could quickly organize the consistent and regular updates that bankers and netlogx executives required to meet the deadlines outlined. Furthermore, it was incredibly important that I was able to detail specifically what these funds would be earmarked for that would permit loan forgiveness after the pandemic. As months rolled by, additional requirements and reporting were required.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

First, I used my network of contacts from current and past work experiences to secure the banking partner that would be the best fit. With many hours and immense detail required, I successfully worked to receive approval for netlogx in the first round, which many small businesses were unable to accomplish. I read a statistic early on after our submission that only 5% of small businesses that applied received funding. When the pandemic didn’t appear to lessen its impact and more reporting requirements were needed to secure loan forgiveness, the plans and detailed reports I’d already prepared were key to ensure I’d be able to meet additional deadlines.

The challenges we’ve encountered as an economy have only strengthened my resolve that working parents should have better support in the workplace. Serving in a leadership capacity during a global pandemic, I’ve worked to set a positive example for my colleagues. I believe it is the most powerful and impactful way I can influence young women and girls who want to have careers — especially careers in STEM — and successfully manage their family life.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Early on, I learned that achieving balance was going to be nearly impossible and that I was going to have to lean on my support groups and stop apologizing when something at home had to take precedence over work. I’ve had to become much more strategic about prioritizing and scheduling my day, with the understanding that we may have to change course quickly and to expect the unexpected.

Some days I may need to step away from my home office at 2 p.m. for a doctor’s appointment and spend some quality time in front of my laptop later that evening. Other days, I may get an early start to ensure I am supporting my colleagues and the work I do for my clients. The choices we have to make can be overwhelming and bring about extreme guilt for working parents. I’ve learned that to overcome that guilt, you have to stop apologizing for balancing your life, which I think many women struggle with, especially during this pandemic.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

One thing I think is hard for those working from home during the pandemic is to remember it is still OK to take PTO. Even though you may have a flexible schedule, it’s important to take time to turn off your devices and grab a mental break from work when you can. Your family may not be able to go on that treasured family trip to the beach this year, but it doesn’t mean you should skip that time off altogether.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Family — While we may be sick of all the togetherness, in my case the same six people every day, it has also brought on new traditions such as our weekly takeout dinner, family movie nights or playing in the yard. Prior to COVID-19, we did a lot of running around. My calendar was slammed with daily activities. I often didn’t have the opportunity to even speak to my husband alone until nearly 9 p.m. I’m grateful COVID changed that.

Work — I have been able to work on things that will help the company grow and thrive in this ever-changing world. We now have conferencing tools for longer-term use, our office phones have been adapted for use at home. I’ve had the chance to sit down and have lunch with my kids or throw in a load of laundry while walking around on my wireless headset during a phone call. Instead of a kitchen chat at work, I am now multitasking from home and can claim I am twice as productive now!

Togetherness — The entire world is going through something, together. It’s not you just having your kids scream in the background, it’s also the vendor or the client you are talking to. I think it has given all of us, at whatever level we serve our organizations at, a sense of our own humanity. We all have lives and we can’t ignore them.

A sense of knowing what makes you tick — Being stuck at home has made me dig deeper into myself and what I really want as a mom, spouse and person. While I would NOT say I have had more time to think, I have had more time to revise my routine and realize what doesn’t need to be in that routine.

Change — That word is going to be a normal part of our lives for some time. Instead of fearing the word, we need to know to attack it. Be prepared, be the ducks (swimming with our feet drastically underwater, but effortlessly floating on top)

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain it?

  • Check in on your people. Even if it’s a phone call, text or a conversation that has no real agenda.
  • Work outside. If I am feeling anxious and just need some fresh air, I grab my laptop and sit outside for a change of scenery, even if it’s just for a phone call or a simple email, it does wonders for the psyche.
  • Take a Break — Working from home can mean the work never ends, both personally and professionally. If we don’t take the time to breath or walk away, we will burn ourselves and those around us out.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” — Winston Churchhill (My husband actually had this on his wrestling teams t-shirts and I could not stop reading it)

I think what resonates so much with me is that with each day, something new can come. Good and bad. While one week might be successful and I might meet targets or goals personally and professionally, I might also feel I wasn’t the best mom I could be. That doesn’t mean that I give up, I keep trying.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn. netlogx can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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